African food security needs urgent, undivided attention

Focus on investment, smallholders and family farming

6 May 2010 Rome – FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf today called for urgent attention to be directed at Africa’s present food security situation.

“In sub-Saharan Africa, since 2009, over 265 million people are malnourished and 30 percent of the population suffers from hunger,” Diouf said in his opening statement for the Ministerial Segment of the 26th session of FAO’s Regional Conference for Africa in Luanda, Angola.

“This situation clearly demands our urgent and undivided attention,” he added.
Agriculture central to policies and development programmes

He noted, however, that despite its negative effect the recent global economic crisis has “placed agriculture and food security at the heart of national and regional development policies and programmes, which allows to look to the next decade with greater optimism.”

“This new order of priorities should be an opportunity to support small producers and strengthen family farming,” he declared.

African agriculture faces multiple constraints, ranging from lack of access to water and modern inputs to poor rural infrastructure. To ensure sustainable food production and achieve food security, agriculture needs to attain significant growth rates over the next four decades. The continent has seen several “success stories” over the past years.

Africa is rich in arable land, water and labour and with the implementation of appropriate policies could increase agricultural production, incomes and food security, Diouf said. In 2008, it produced 152.3 million tonnes of cereals, 12 percent more than the previous year, while projections for 2009 indicate that the continent’s cereal production could reach 160 million tonnes.  

Core problem – underinvestment

Underinvestment in agriculture has been the core reason for African hunger and malnutrition, Diouf said. Only nine African countries allocated at least 10 percent of their national budgets to agriculture, as pledged by heads of state and government at the African Union Summit in Maputo in 2003. At the same time, the share of Official Development Assistance from rich countries that is allocated to developing country agriculture had fallen at the global level from 19 percent in 1980 to around five percent today.

Nonetheless, “I remain convinced that with the political will and good governance, Africa will be able to develop its agriculture to adequately feed its population,” he stressed. Quoting Malawi President His Excellency Bingu Wa Mutharika, current Chairperson of the African Union, he added the objective should be that “five years from now, no African child will be dying of hunger and malnutrition”.

The five-day Regional Conference closes tomorrow. 

Photo: ©FAO/Giulio Napolitano
FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf